Polls: Attacking cuts has swayed public opinion


5:20 pm - September 21st 2010

by Sunny Hundal    


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YouGov’s Peter Kellner has published this commentary on the government’s polling today:

The government’s ratings on both issues were healthy at first, reaching their peak immediately after Osborne’s emergency Budget on June 22. In a poll conducted that evening and the following day, we found that 53% thought the Government’s spending plans good for the economy, while only 28% thought they were bad.

In our latest survey, the proportion saying ‘good’ is down to 40%, while the proportion saying ‘bad’ is up to 43%. A net score (‘good’ minus ‘bad’) of plus 25 three months ago has slumped to minus three this week.

As for fairness, a net score of plus 11 on June 22-23 (fair 45%, unfair 34%) has now slipped to minus 21 (fair 30%, unfair 21%). As few Labour voters thought the plans fair in the first place, we should not be surprised that disenchantment has grown most among Conservatives and the diminishing number of Liberal Democrat supporters. Among Tories, the net score has declined from plus 80 to plus 47; among Lib Dems, it’s down from plus 21 to minus three.

Kellner goes on to admit that Ed Balls “has undoubtedly landed some blows on both the Government’s economic strategy”.

In other words, since Labour has adopted a stridently anti-cuts position following the election, the Coalition has lost a lot of support. It’s economic argument is rapidly disintegrating.

Contrast that with before the election, when Alistair Darling’s mixed-messages on the economy ensured that Labour rapidly lost the argument.

It’s clear that Labour can win the economic argument if it takes a more confrontational approach on the cuts, rather than sending out mixed messages about to what extent the Tories are right about the need for cuts.

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Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


Erm – without wanting to be picky – the graph there suggests that Labour should be very careful about attackin cuts. 35% to 58% isn’t an irreversable gap over time – but a key part of both lobbying and campaigning is not to find yourself outside of the debate in the eyse of those you wish to sway.

And that means not taking a position that lays too far from the public perception.

So while arguing that cuts are not all neccesary – or not neccesary yet might be fine. But arguing they are not at all necesary is dangerous.

35% to 58% isn’t an irreversable gap over time – but a key part of both lobbying and campaigning is not to find yourself outside of the debate in the eyse of those you wish to sway.

The poll you’re referring to above refers to Labour before the election.

Since Labour has campaigned more vociferously against cuts after the election, that public opinion has shifted back again.

The people they need to sway are voters – and it seems they’re being swayed.

Also, these poll numbers have been released a month before the Comprehensive Spending Review. Many folks don’t know what’s really coming, and few have yet been personally affected by them.

Hence the relatively easy ride for the Lib Dem leadership at their conference:

http://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2010/09/phoney-war-2.html

Might be looking different by Christmas. And moreso when the 2011 conference season comes round.

This is an astonishing piece of unjustified extrapolation from the data – there really is no call at all for the conclusion reached here. The facts say merely that more people now think that the government’s plan will harm the economy, and is unfair. ALL of the Labour leadership candidates have argued this. You have no evidence at all that the voters who changed their minds have been listening to Balls in particular, or that his argument is the one that has broken through. It is all just wishful thinking.

I love these arguments about savage cuts and the like. Just look at the numbers. Budget 2010, Labour planned to spend £772bn in 2014-15. The June Budget shows the Tories aiming to spend £758bn in the same year. £772bn v £758bn. It’s barely more than a rounding error.

They’re both going to spend around £100bn more than 2009-10s £669bn – so what are we all complaining about?

Some folks – apparently avowed lefitsts – are coming across as opposing all public spending cuts whereas Ed Balls and the FT coulmnists are warning that premature, deep spending cuts risk a stagnant economy or sending the economy back into recession. But Ed Balls and the FT columnists are not saying the government should continue with a budget deficit amounting to 11% of GDP indefinitely or that there should be no spending cuts. In other words, critics of the government’s fiscal policy are not all saying the same thing.

Labour has adopted a stridently anti-cuts position following the election

This I don’t understand. I thought Labour had been sending decidely mixed messages (Millibands, Darling) and you’ve been busy telling them to change tack. So if the data shows us anything, it shows us the success of a nuanced message, doesn’t it?

the new unfairness figures should be 51% shouldn’t they ?
despite having most of the media on their side the public are beginning to turn on the ConDems regime. Some tories on here seem to be getting jumpy also.

I thought Labour had been sending decidely mixed messages (Millibands, Darling) and you’ve been busy telling them to change tack.

I’ve been urging the David Miliband types that a more strident anti-cuts position needs to be adopted, but the loudest voices against the cuts (esp Balls) have been very clear in the approach.

You have no evidence at all that the voters who changed their minds have been listening to Balls in particular, or that his argument is the one that has broken through. It is all just wishful thinking.

Of course this is my reading of the polls, I’m not denying that. I think most people read polls and extrapolate from that, and it’s no surprise that DM supporters are arguing against me.

But my point is this – it was obvious that Labour’s message before the election was that of Alistair Darling’s approach.

Post election, the voice most heard has been Ed Balls’ – and others who very much oppose the cuts quite stridently.

You can’t say the media helped changed the consensus because the media is still overwhelmingly pro-cuts.

So what changed public opinion so strongly, given it was going in the other direction?

10. Luis Enrique

It seems to me that the news more recently frequently features news of cuts (all those announcements about 40% cuts came out post election) and I’d have thought that alone would turn public opinion against them (because cuts natually sound like “bad news”) quite irrespective of anything Labour party mouthpieces have been saying (whom the vast majority of the public probably ignore).

is media still overwhelmingly pro-cuts? (I wouldn’t know, I don’t read most of it).

(all those announcements about 40% cuts came out post election) and I’d have thought that alone would turn public opinion against them

Not if the public believe they are absolutely necessary and that there is no alternative.

Neither of which is true and needs to be emphasised repeatedly.

Sunny

I don’t understand where you are getting numbers from that reverse the trend in that graph, which fits with roughly the period of the Greek crisis.

I mean I can see how the figures hint at the public viewing the coalition’s cuts as unfair – and obviously impartial groups have come out and pointed out how much harder they are attacking the poor than the rich.

But I can’t see how that suggests people think cuts are not neccesary. And that’s what the graph is about.

So it suggests that the unfairness can be attacked, and alternative plans can be proposed (perhaps by cutting the deficit by raising taxes instead of hurting the poor.)

But if 58% of people still think spending has to be cut to reduce the deficit, Labour can’t easilly refute that without looking out of touch and opportunistic. (And thus failing to change opinions at all).

Also – I don’t really see how you conclude that graph’s spike is a result of alistair darling. I know you want it to be. But there is no evidence presented, and simply wanting something to be true doesn’t make it so. As I say, it may just be that around that time people were concerned by all the press coverage of Greece. (Something that has since died away and so hopefully taken some of the sentiment with it.)

13. Luis Enrique

I don’t know why you take support for cuts to mean people think they are “absolutely necessary and that there is no alternative” such that they would continue to support them not matter how harsh they are, and after news broadcasts start filling up with people talking about how devastating they are going to be.

I’m not at all surprised that support for the cuts has fallen, I don’t see it has anything to do with what message the Labour party has been attempting to communicate (how many people even notice?).

You might be right that these polls show Labour ought to keep hammering away at the cuts, but simply because they’ll be going with the flow of public opinion.

There are actually several questions that polling companies should be asking, as I suspect the reality of public opinion is more complex. For example, I am in favour of balancing the budget over the course of an economic cycle – which means I have to be in favour of eliminating the deficit. However this does not mean I support “cuts”, it could mean I support tax rises, economic growth, or a combination of all options. Furthermore even if I indicate that I support cuts, that wouldn’t tell anyone whether I support doing them now, which particular things I would cut, and how much cutting should be done as opposed to other things. So instead of one question, the polls should actually ask several. I suggest something on the lines of the following:

1. Do you think the government’s budget should be balanced over the course of an economic cycle?

2. If Yes, do you think the current budget deficit should be addressed by: (a) Spending cuts, (b) tax rises, (c) waiting for economic growth, (d) a combination of all 3,

3. If you think spending cuts are necessary as all or part of a budget deficit reduction plan, do you think the spending cuts should (a) occur as soon as possible to make reducing the deficit a priority, (b) should occur slowly as the economy recovers and can handle the cuts.

4. Which areas of government spending should escape any cuts beyond potential efficiency improvements? (insert list of areas)

5. Which areas of government spending should take the brunt of cuts?

Now a decent poll, along the lines of the above, would provide far better information for us, and be far more helpful to the labour party in terms of constructing an alternative policy likely to appeal.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Polls show Ed Balls' confrontational approach to cuts works better than D Miliband's http://bit.ly/czcwEB

  2. Andy Sutherland

    RT @libcon: Polls show Ed Balls' confrontational approach to cuts works better than D Miliband's http://bit.ly/czcwEB

  3. Jeevan Rai

    RT @libcon: Polls show Ed Balls' confrontational approach to cuts works better than D Miliband's http://bit.ly/czcwEB

  4. Cllr Krupesh Hirani

    RT @libcon: Polls show Ed Balls' confrontational approach to cuts works better than D Miliband's http://bit.ly/czcwEB

  5. Soho Politico

    Talk about a creative interpretation of the data @sunny_hundal!! This conclusion is totally unwarranted. http://bit.ly/czcwEB

  6. mark wright

    RT @sunny_hundal: Latest polls show Ed Balls' confrontational approach on cuts works better than D-Miliband's http://bit.ly/czcwEB

  7. Dr Shibley Rahman

    RT @sunny_hundal: Latest polls show Ed Balls' confrontational approach on cuts works better than D-Miliband's http://bit.ly/czcwEB

  8. Paul Evans

    Watching how the polls swing around the cuts will be v interesting http://bit.ly/arc6Dn

  9. Jonathan Holt

    RT @libcon: Polls show Ed Balls' confrontational approach to cuts works better than D Miliband's http://bit.ly/czcwEB

  10. their_vodka

    S Hundall: Polls: Attacking cuts has swayed public opinion http://bit.ly/978RUT #nocuts

  11. garry

    RT @their_vodka: S Hundall: Polls: Attacking cuts has swayed public opinion http://bit.ly/978RUT #nocuts

  12. Load Bearing Polls « Hopi Sen

    […] fine example is currently being supplied by Sunny Hundal, who has twice presented data from opinion polling as evidence that a strategy of opposing all cuts would be more […]

  13. Dilwyn’s Daily Digest – Wednesday 22nd September 2010 « Aled-Dilwyn Fisher

    […] Liberal Conspiracy highlights the growing public revulsion to […]

  14. luther

    @sunny_hundal http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/09/21/poll-attacking-cuts-hurts-tories-more-than-agreeing-to-them/





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